The best herbs to keep your immunity in top shape
When it comes to warding off colds and other bugs, some of the best preventative measures you can take come straight from the garden.
Considered natural healers for centuries, herbs have long been used to help strengthen the immune system so that it is better equipped to fight off colds and other viruses.
So which herbs should you add to your bug-busting arsenal, as the cold and flu season approaches and Australians continue dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?
Your immunity-boosting toolkit
Firstly, it’s important to know that while herbs have a role to play in enhancing your immune system, there are other crucial steps to take too.
“There’s a number of ways Australians can improve their immunity, and often the simplest of approaches are also the most effective,” says community pharmacist, master herbalist and House of Wellness expert Gerald Quigley.
“I can’t stress the importance of sleep,” says Gerald. “Rather than stocking up on toilet paper, we should all be stocking up on sleep.
“Another thing you want to be doing is eating fresh, home-cooked meals where possible and ensure you’re consuming important vitamins linked to a strong immune system. Foods high in vitamins A, C, D and zinc are great for this.
Live a healthy life
“Medicinal herbs are effective at supporting your immune system, but it’s important to remember there’s no quick-fix for a healthy immune system. A strong immune system also requires a consistent, healthy lifestyle,” he says.
Herbs and your immunity
Naturopath and nutritionist Katherine Maslen says herbs can support their immune system, but it’s important to know that they can’t provide a “buffer” that will stop you catching bugs altogether.
“They don’t make you invincible or any less prone to contracting illnesses or viruses,” she says.
“What they can do, however, is support your immune system and better equip it to fight off infection.”
So which herbs should you reach for?
Native to the United States, echinacea is linked to a variety of health benefits for its anti-inflammatory, lymphatic and wound-healing properties.
“In addition to reducing symptoms of the common cold, echinacea helps increase the amount of white blood cells, which in turn helps the immune system fight infection, including viruses like COVID-19,” says Katherine.
The whole echinacea plant can be consumed, but some parts are more potent than others.
“The root is the richest part of the herb and consequently, consuming it provides the most support to your immune system,” says Katherine.
How to use it:
Typically taken as a supplement, echinacea can also be consumed in powdered form and teas and juices.
“Some parts of the herb are more effective than others, so it’s important to look at the ingredients list when shopping for Echinacea-derived products and supplements,” says Katherine.
Packed with antioxidants, this berry supports the immune system by reducing infection and inflammation.
“Elderberry works similarly to echinacea, but they work most effectively together,” says Katherine.
“In herbal medicine, there’s a concept called synergy, which basically means two halves are greater than a whole. In other words, consuming a combination of echinacea and elderberry is more effective than just consuming either herb alone.”
How to use it:
Elderberry can be consumed a variety of ways, including in teas and juices, or in capsule form as a supplement. It is most effective when consumed fresh.
Popular in Chinese medicine, astragalus is linked to a variety of health benefits, including immune-boosting, anti-aging and anti-inflammatory effects. Much like echinacea, it’s also believed to increase white blood cell count.
“Astragalus, specifically its root, is another medicinal herb to consider for immune system support,” says Katherine.
How to use it:
Typically, you can get it in root powder form – take it as a tea, capsule or fresh.
Used in Eastern medicine for centuries, medicinal mushrooms aren’t to be confused with magic mushrooms, but they do pack a powerful punch with antioxidant and immune-supporting properties.
Within the medicinal mushroom family, there are six mushroom varieties – chaga, reishi, turkey tail, shiitake, lion’s mane and cordyceps. Reishi in particular is linked to supporting the immune system.
“Medicinal mushrooms are a great way to support your immune system – especially in conjunction with herbs like echinacea and elderberry, they can be very effective” says Gerald.
How to use it:
The most popular method is in powdered form, but fresh and dried mushrooms are also common.
And a reminder …
As with any herbal supplement, it’s important to always check with your health care provider or GP before introducing a new supplement into your diet.
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Written by Charlotte Brundrett.